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  • Narrative Faith: Dostoevsky, Camus, and Singer by David Stromberg
  • Michał Mrugalski
David Stromberg, Narrative Faith: Dostoevsky, Camus, and Singer. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2018. xxvii + 197 pp.

This engaging study contains close readings of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Demons (1872), Albert Camus's The Plague (1947), and Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Penitent (1983), analyzed as representations of faith and doubt and evoking analogous states of mind in the reader: the three writers "use doubt-generating narrators to both portray crises of faith in their characters and instigate them in their readers—creating a doubling effect between the level of literary representation and the level of real-life experience" (xii). Regrettably, Stromberg does not engage in the current discussions on experientiality, nor with the latest works on the unreliable narrator. Most of his theoretical references pertain to the ethics of narrative.

Yet the book demonstrates how experientiality (see Fludernik 1996; 2003; Caracciolo 2014) connects the storyworld with the world of the reader. It is itself anchored in the real-life experience of the narratologist (ix–x): the ideas of faith and doubt pertain not only to narrative but also to life, nurturing philosophical ambitions.

Experientiality mediates not only between the reader and narrative but also, within narrative, between the represented world and the representing agency. Stromberg deals with this relationship with the help of the categories of content and form, despite the criticism that they have sustained. Owing to doubt-generating devices, a "parallel develops between content and form: Questions raised by the narrative telling are developed thematically through the portrayed discourse and events" (p. xiii). It seems that a pair of notions proposed by Toker (2010) would be more appropriate in this context, i.e. form and ethics (or ethos alluding to "the content of one's character"). Stromberg bases his theory on Mikhail Bakhtin, though ahistorically, eliding the conceptual development between Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity (1920–1923) and the theory of speech genres (1952–1953). He amalgamates Bakhtin with Genette, discourse with narration (or "telling," xvi), and thematic analysis of discourse in literature with structuralist methods that examine narrative techniques. His is "a phenomenological attitude in which narrative, whether or not fictional, appears in what we experience as the 'world' and is engaged by us in that world" (xvi). Phenomenology, indeed, may be said to mediate between the hermeneutical approaches and structuralism, especially taking into consideration the influence of Edmund Husserl on Roman Jakobson (see Holenstein; and the special issue of Acta Structuralica 2018, vol. 1).

The results of the negotiations between telling, ethos, and effect are buttressed by what Roger D. Sell calls "communicational criticism" (xvii). A precedent for this approach, which sheds light on implicit premises and consequences of Stromberg's move toward communication and raises questions about its compliance with phenomenology, appeared in Poland right after the Stalinist period [End Page 186] and was called "communicationism." Kazimierz Budzyk (1960: 127) criticized attempts to rescue the unity of literary studies for which the point of departure was the primacy of either form or content, attempts such as formalism and sociologism. He claimed that the categories of formal description and those of the description of content are mutually untranslatable, despite the undeniable relationship between the socially-ideological and the formally-artistic features of the work, and that the most important aspect of literature is contact with the reader, without whom the literary work withers. The meta-level which encapsulates the formal and the socially-ideological aspects of the work is of a social nature: it is literary communication (enabling experientiality). When literary communication becomes the point of departure,

we no longer have to answer the question of the relations between form and content, which vary from case to case, but the question of the function of these mutual relationships in the realization of the social and cultural tasks which literature actually takes up. In the framework of the new question, the relationship between form and content disappears as a central issue and the specific object of study.

(Budzyk 131)

In Stromberg, the relation between ethics and telling is relative to the effect the work has on the reader, foregrounding doubt and, as an...


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